A to ZZZs of Sleep Deprivation
Don’t let late nights make you fat. “People who sleep less over time tend to be heavier,” says Lawrence Epstein, the chief medical officer of the Sleep Health Centers, in Brighton, Massachusetts. But it doesn’t take long for the cycle to start. “If you pull one all-nighter or miss a few hours each night over a week, your body releases hormones that prompt eating and weight gain,” says Epstein.
Use the weekend to catch up. Most of us have sleep debt: the difference between the number of hours we need every night (which varies per person) and how many we get. If you feel best after seven hours a night and you get five for three nights in a row during a busy week, you have a sleep debt of six hours (two missing hours for three nights). Erasing that debt requires you to get six extra hours over the course of a few days, but they don’t have to be consecutive, says Epstein. David F. Dinges, Ph.D., the chief of the division of sleep and chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, conducted a study in which participants were restricted to about four hours of sleep for five consecutive nights, then allowed to sleep for 10 hours or more on the sixth night. The researchers found that after the recovery night, participants regained some of their previous levels of alertness and ability to concentrate. So while you should focus on eliminating your sleep debt completely, just one good snooze (a few hours more than you normally need) can give you a fresher start.
Watch out for hidden caffeine. Think hot cocoa is a soothing way to end a winter’s night? Hold on to your marshmallows. Chocolate, even the powdered kind, contains caffeine, as do many over-the-counter pain medicines that you might pop at night to get a head start on a hangover. Excedrin Extra-Strength Caplets, for example, contain 65 milligrams of caffeine; by comparison, the average cup of coffee contains 50 to 100.
Skip the sliders. Foods that are high in fat or protein require your body to work harder at digestion. When your body is busy breaking down mini hamburgers, your sleep is more likely to be hampered. Watch the clock; an early cocktail party is the perfect time to snack on something more substantial. As the night wears on, taper off. Or, if you’re still hungry, have some complex carbohydrates, like whole-wheat crackers or a handful of crudités.